I was hoping with the advent of digital technology, that the days of me experiencing interference on my radio would be gone; sadly not. I can still experience the frustration of knowing someone out there is trying to communicate with me, but the background crackle and hiss can often make this difficult to understand. It can be like that when trying to listen to God.
The reading from Samuel reminds us all that God knows us by name, that he will not force himself upon us, that he desires a relationship and that there is nothing wrong with his ‘transmitting’ equipment. The problem is always with our receivers. Some of the challenges in receiving and hearing God’s voice is that many don’t even know, or cannot believe that he is even trying to. There may be a lack of interest in that possibility, or the reality that it is our own behaviour that is causing the problem. Our ‘receivers’ are all too often tuned to a different channel – we’re following our own desires and ignoring the voice of the creator speaking into our lives.
All of these factors were playing out in the nation of Israel at the time of Samuel’s encounter in the temple. The nation had degenerated socially, morally, politically and spiritually. Even the priests, set to uphold the values of God, were corrupt and taking advantage of the people and Eli’s sons were part of the problem. It is into this situation that God raises Samuel to make a difference, and so, He speaks his name. Learning how to hear the voice and heart of God is the solution to a thousand and one problems we may face, but even more than that; it’s the key to discovering who we truly are, discovering our destiny and fulfilling the incredible God given potential that is locked within us.
On three occasions that night, God calls to Samuel, and, because we’re told that Samuel did not yet know the Lord, he thinks it is Eli calling him. The fact that it takes three times for Eli to realise what is happening may be down to his own ‘spiritual antenna’ being tainted by his behaviour and what he is surrounding his life with. Wrong thoughts and attitudes and behaviour, create noisy interference. It is to his credit, however, that he finally understands and is instrumental in leading Samuel to his first encounter with God. The situation needed explaining and the boy needed to be led towards the reality of God. This is a very important message for all of us with children, grand-children, god-children.
We have a critical responsibility to them to do the same. I have no time for the argument that proposes, ‘if they want to find out, then they will do it for themselves’. To what other area of life do we apply this approach? If we consider something is important for our children, we ensure we let them know about it and lead them into it. I truly believe, that knowing God and encountering him for ourselves is the most significant discovery anyone of us can ever make in our lifetime. It is far too important to be ever left to chance. God calls Samuel by name, because He wants Samuel to understand that He knows him personally and to help Samuel to get to know the sound of His voice. This encounter changes Samuel’s life and the life of the nation.
We live in a culture were so many want to be heard but sadly, have so little to say. Consequently, we are losing our ability and willingness to really listen .. especially to God. The tragedy is, that it is only ever by listening to Him that we will ever have anything of consequence to contribute. Be prepared though, for God will speak comfort into our lives but He will also speak conviction and it is often what we want to hear least that we need to hear the most. So … when was the last time you heard God speak to you? When was the last time you gave him the slightest opportunity to do so? It may take time and practice, but I encourage you to find a quiet place and the mental space to speak the words of Samuel and await a response: ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’
With the Lord’s blessing
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale